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1 Thessalonians 1:1-3 by Robert Dean
Time for a gratitude check! Are you near the top of the gratitude gauge or sunk near the zero? If you're too stuck on thinking about yourself to notice what God and others are doing for you, it's hard to be thankful. Listen to this lesson to see how having an entitlement mentality destroys us and our culture. See how the Apostle Paul never failed to express thanksgiving in his epistles. Discover the true meaning of grace and how it impacts our gratitude.
Series:1 Thessalonians (2013)
Duration:59 mins 31 secs

Grace and Gratitude
1 Thessalonians 1:1–3
1 Thessalonians Lesson #003
July 14, 2013

The focal point now will come out of the main verb of the first four verses. Verses 2-5 in the Greek are one verse. The main verb is the words "We give thanks." This is addressed to the church in Thessalonica, located in the Roman province of Macedonia where Paul went on his second missionary journey.

1 Thessalonians 1:1 NASB "Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace." This pretty much represents a standard form of salutation in most epistles in the ancient world—not just in the first century but also going back for several hundred years. One example is found in Ezra 7:12 where Ezra has received correspondence from Artaxerxes the king of Persia. It begins, NASB "Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect {peace.}" This was a standard form of salutation. In this opening line we see mention of Paul and his companions who had been with him in Thessalonica and some time after they had left he had sent Silas and Timothy back to Thessalonica. They are well known to the congregation so he includes them in the opening salutation. So we have the opening greeting indicating the authors of the epistle, Paul, Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy.

Then we have the mention of those to whom the epistle is addressed, "the church (ekklesia] of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." The phraseology there that we have indicates two things: the deity, the focus on God the Father, and the designation of the first person of the Trinity as the Father brings with it concepts of the Father. He is the first person of the Trinity who is ultimately in authority within the Trinity. There is an authority structure. It is not based on any superiority between the members of the Trinity; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal in deity. None is superior to the other. When describing the Trinity we say that they are co-equal. That means that in terms of their essence they are the same, there is no distinction between them in terms of their essence. However, in terms of their function—sometimes referred to as economic Trinity, the function of the Trinity—there is a distinction. The Father is the authority and is the one who sent the Son, and then the Holy Spirit is sent by both the Father and the Son. So there is a hierarchy there of authority which has to do with the fulfillment of the mission of God's plans.

The church is in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This indicates the unity of the church and that ultimately they have a spiritual reality that goes beyond their physical existence.

When we talk about the church, the ekklesia, there are some different concepts that are used at times. There is the term 'universal church' which refers to everyone who is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, everyone who has been regenerated, justified through all of the ages from Pentecost in AD 30 all the way up to the Rapture of the church. These are all members of the universal church. They are all members of the body of Christ, and that is an invisible organism of the body of Christ. Then we have another term, 'the local church,' i.e. the local expression of the body of Christ.

Another term is the 'visible church,' which would be the local church, and then there is the 'invisible church,' which would be the universal church. At other times there we have the expression 'the local church' which would include those who are genuine believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and it may include some who are not yet saved. There may be children, relatives, maybe friends, or some people who come to the church who have never heard the gospel before. They may even get to a point because of policies in some congregations where they are members of a local church but are not members of the universal church. They have never put their faith and trust in Christ alone for salvation.   

The local church may be comprised of believers and unbelievers. The local church is an expression of the universal body of Christ, but only those members of a local church who are believers in Jesus Christ are also members of the universal church. Salvation is based on a simple concept: faith alone in Christ alone, i.e. faith alone, not faith plus baptism, faith plus membership, faith plus observance of any kind of ritual. It is simply faith alone, believing that by trust by itself in Jesus Christ alone—not Christ and the church, not Christ and doing good works, not Christ and ritual, but Christ alone, that that is all that is necessary for salvation.     

God the Father in this verse references the first person of the Trinity, and the phrase "Lord Jesus Christ" is the full nomenclature of the second person of the Trinity. The term "Lord" refers to His deity, that He is one with God the Father in terms of His deity. Jesus is a Hebrew word, Yeshua, which is a form of Joshua; it comes from a Hebrew verb yasha, indicating salvation—to save, to deliver. And so His name means something, it is not just a tag. His mission was to be the savior of His people. The third part of His name, Christ, is the Greek christos from the verb chrio, meaning to anoint, is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word meshiach, which means also to anoint. It indicates someone who has been anointed or appointed to a particular position. It is a word that was applied to Lucifer, the anointed cherub, also to Cyrus in the Old Testament because God had appointed him to a mission to release the Jews from captivity and allow them to return back to the land that God had given them in 538 BC. So these two names indicate that the identity of a local church is that we are in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then we come to the salutation. This shows how the apostle Paul has taken a standard cultural form of address, and it has been transformed just  a little bit in order to represent a doctrinal or theological truth. Rather than following the normal custom of a Greek greeting charin, from charis, meaning grace—the infinitive form would mean greeting—he replaces it with the simple noun form charis. He adds to that a typical Jewish greeting, 'peace' which in Hebrew would be shalom, meaning wellness or wholeness. It takes on a distinctively theological sense in that we must first be recipients of God's grace before we can experience peace with God. We must first accept God's gracious gift of salvation and only after we have been regeneration, justified, do we experience that peace with God. Peace with God relates to two aspects. One is reconciliation and our ongoing fellowship with God. So we have these two elements brought together in a sophisticated way by Paul where he embeds a reminder in the very salutation to his audience indicating God's grace and peace to them, that is comes from God, that it has its source in God and is then given to us.          

What we should note in our Bibles is that this last phrase, "grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ," is omitted in some of the old MSS. However, it is found in the Majority Text, and that Text refers to another form of the Greek testament that built on a different assumption of how to handle these differences between some of the ancient MSS. I tend to go with the Majority Text most of the time and therefore believe that this is the formal greeting.

The next part of the opening section is the beginning of the prayer. 1 Thessalonians 1:2 NASB "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention {of you} in our prayers; [3] constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father." It is interesting that this is the third reference to the Lord Jesus Christ and the first person of the Trinity, God as Father. That is important to note because perhaps this is something that Paul had to drill home in terms of the full deity of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Father. [4] "knowing, brethren beloved by God, {His} choice of you."

We just focus here on the initial statement by Paul. He says, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers." A couple of important doctrines are embedded within this opening statement. One is related to gratitude and the other to prayer, the importance and priority of prayer, and how we should pray. Every time in these opening sections in Paul's epistles where he is giving a prayer or describing how prays for the congregation, we should take note of that as this gives us an example of the way in which we should pray and the kinds of things we should be praying for.

It was also typical in the opening salutation of most letters in the ancient world to make some kind of statement regarding thankfulness and thankfulness to the gods. But Paul changes the convention a little bit so that he can conform the cultural convention to a biblical pattern that emphasizes eternal truths related to God. So in verse 2 we have, "We give thanks." This is the main verb. Verses 2, 3, 4 and 5 are actually one sentence in the Greek. But most of this opening sentence is composed of dependent clauses, relative clauses, causal clauses, and explanatory clauses. The main verb gives us the independent clause, "We give thanks to God always for you all." Everything else is secondary to that idea.   

So the first thing that needs to be addressed is this opening principle of gratitude toward God for all that He has given us. This opening part relates to the verb eucharisteo. It is a present active indicative, first person plural (we). The present active indicative tells us he is talking about something that is going on in present time and there are different nuances to the present tense that can be a long, continuous action or it can be expressed as a little bit narrower continuous action, or it could even be a very narrow focus on something that is being done right now. You can't tell that from the grammar, it is supplied from the context. But this would indicate from all that Paul says that what we read in other epistles that this is a standard operating procedure from Paul, something he does on a daily basis. Principle: We should have a daily time of prayer, a time when we can set it aside without interruption to focus on God. Prayer should be an important daily discipline in the life of every single believer. It is something that should continuously characterize us, not just some sort of rote action but something is the foundation for our ongoing communication with God.

At the end of this epistle Paul is going to make the statement to the Thessalonians that they should pray adialeiptos, "pray without ceasing"—the sense that it should be a habitual action in their life. This is a habit that Paul has cultivated in his spiritual life.

The basic meaning of the word eucharisteo is to give thanks, to be grateful for something. It is a compound word. The eu prefix usually mentions something that is done well, it is going to make some kind of statement about doing good. For example, we have an English word "eulogy" that comes from a Greek word, the word eulogia. logos is the basic word for 'word' or a thought, an idea or a statement. logia is therefore related to a statement; eu referring to something positive, pleasing, beneficial; so it is a pleasing statement. So eulogy comes to mean a pleasing statement from somebody in the context of a funeral. So here we have eu—something well, something said positive—and then the root is charis, the word for grace. eucharisteo is a word meaning to be grateful or thankful for something and it is related to the concept of grace. As Paul begins this opening he is reminding them of his gratitude to God for all that they are. This expresses something related to his personal concern for them. It is an intimate statement towards the recipients of the letter and it also expresses his pastoral concern for the congregation in Thessalonica. He is concerned about their wellbeing and their spiritual growth.

A second thing we learn from this is that it expresses in a prayer a divine viewpoint on the priorities of prayer. Notice he begins, "we are thankful to God for you all, and every mention of you.

A third thing is that within these prayers Paul gives us an indication of the kind of priorities we should have in our spiritual life—the things that he prays for to be present in our life, the things that he is thankful for. This tells us the kinds of things that we should be focusing on in life. It encourages the recipients of the letter to pursue goals that Paul is praying for in the letter.

The fourth thing that we see in this opening prayer is that they often summarize and foreshadow basic themes in the epistle.

We want to spend some time on what the Bible teaches about gratitude. When we use the word "doctrine" we are using it in a way that is not as common today as it once was. It simply means teaching. It is the teaching of gratitude, the biblical instruction related to gratitude. That is the way to understand it. All we mean by Bible doctrine is what the Bible teaches. The word that is used usually to describe the Old Testament, the Mosaic Law, the beginning of the Old Testament, is the Hebrew word Torah. We often think of it in the limited, restricted sense as the law. But the word torah basically means instruction from God as to how to live. So torah is basically the Old Testament version of doctrine. Doctrine is the New Testament version of the Old Testament concept of torah. It is the instruction of God. God gives instructions about gratitude, that gratitude is something that should be a part of the makeup of the individual's life.

People have different strengths and weaknesses, and some people can be a little more grateful in their normal pre-salvation state. Some people can be less so. There are a lot of different ways we are impacted by our sin nature. Some people are more self-absorbed than others. Gratitude is really an issue of self-absorption. Your gratitude barometer or gratitude gauge says a lot about the level of self-absorption in your life. This is a problem that we are seeing more and more in our culture. We are the most narcissistic culture. Narcissicism is just another way of saying we are conceited, focused on our own self-will, and all we can think about is how something affects us, something is going to impact us, impacting our life. And rather than being grateful to people we are just focused immediately on ourselves. The more self-absorbed people are the less grateful they are. There always in a hurry in life, everything is all about them, and they are not truly grateful. We have a surface gratitude of good manners where we often say thank you, but it is just perfunctory rather than a true attitude of the soul that is profoundly thankful for everything that we have in life. This is directly related to not only self-absorption but also arrogance.

The term gratitude comes from a Latin word gratitudinum, which means thankfulness, and is ultimately based on the Latin word gratis, which means thankful or pleasing. Gratis is a close cognate to the Latin word gratia, which is usually translated "grace." So grace is directly related to gratitude. The more grace oriented we are—which involves humility—the more we are going to have a capacity for gratitude. Gratitude is related therefore to humility and is directly antithetical to arrogance.

Something else that comes out of this is related to another cognate of gratia. It focuses on the idea of praise. So when we praise God we are expressing gratitude to Him. That is why we have various forms of the Psalms that are praise psalms, and one category of praise psalms is thanksgiving psalms. These express the thankfulness of the writer of the hymn/psalm to God. So these ideas all relate. Praise, gratitude and grace are all a part of what we sometimes speak of as simply grace orientation. There is a direct correlation between our gratitude and our grace orientation. People who are less gracious, less grace oriented, are less grateful; people who are more grateful have corresponding increase in their genuine humility as well as their grace orientation.

How do we define gratitude? It is expressed as appreciation for something someone has done, acknowledgement of what they have done, appreciativeness of what they have done, recognition of what they have done, and thankfulness. Failure to be grateful is a result of arrogance. It comes out of a self-seeking attitude and self-absorption. The idea that is often deeply held but not really exposed is that when we get something we deserve it. It is an attitude of entitlement. One of the dangers that we are seeing develop in our culture is the more the government gives and the more we increase government programs of welfare, of benevolence, whatever it may be, and the more people are given things without working for them, they more they develop an attitude of entitlement. What this increases is self-absorption. We already have a problem with the sin nature of being self-absorbed and being arrogant and then this is fed by a Federal Government welfare machine, which instead of truly helping people does the opposite; it destroys them. And once we reach a critical mass of population that no longer operates on humility but is functioning on the arrogance of entitlement, then the country will absolutely implode. This will happen in families, in corporations and companies. In any network of people where you allow an entitlement mentality to develop it will lead to an implosion eventually because it just feeds this carnivorous, arrogant nature inside of us. The entitlement mentality is just the opposite of gratitude. If you want to destroy a country, develop and entitlement generation. That is exactly what we have done with these various social programs that have come out of Washington DC. 

Gratitude is foundational to health in a society, and gratitude only functions in relation to humility. Romans 1:21 gives us an insight into this. NASB "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks …" Notice the correlation here between being thankful and recognizing the authority of god in a person's life. If you don't recognize the authority of God then you are not going to be thankful. That doesn't mean that we are thankful to God for giving us handouts from the government in any way, shape or form. In fact, in 2 Thessalonians Paul says that if you don't work you don't eat. This emphasis on personal responsibility for taking care of one's self is very clear. The Bible is not a supporter of these largess programs that we see coming from government. It does support individual personal charity, not programmatic charity, which is simply a form of socialism.

In Romans 1:21 this is connected to religious belief, that an ungrateful culture is an atheistic culture, an agnostic culture, a culture that does not humble itself to God. The result is that they become futile in their speculations. That means their thought systems become all convoluted and they can't accomplish whatever it is that they think they're going to accomplish, because they are using wrong tools, wrong methodology, and this goes to a heart [mind] problem. Their foolish heart was darkened "…but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." This is the result of their rejection of God. They can't think in terms of light and in terms of truth. [22] "Professing to be wise, they became fools." This characterizes much of the world's culture. We are breeding narcissism, arrogance, self-absorption, and it is going to lead to the complete collapse of the nation.

Gratitude, therefore, is something that is directly related to grace orientation. They balance each other. So if you want to be a grateful person you really have to come to grips with grace. Grace orientation is what I called a stress buster. How to handle the problems of life through these ten spiritual skills. There are basically tem skills summarizing a range of spiritual disciplines that we must cultivate in order to advance in terms of our spiritual maturity. Sometimes they are referred to as problem-solving devices. A problem in a military sense is any time we reach a decision point we have to go with option A or option B. That is a problem. It is a problem in the sense of working through a series of progressions to reach a decision and move out in a certain direction. So grace orientation is the fourth stress buster or spiritual skill and it begins by understanding that everything we are and everything we have comes from God, that we deserve nothing and there is nothing about us that impresses God. And if we go through life and realize that everything we have is just a gift of God, it really doesn't have anything to do with us. Hard work and a lot of ability is not necessarily the key to success. We are not diminishing that but there are a lot of people who have worked hard, achieved a lot, but things just haven't happened for them. Ultimately, if we have done well it is because God has blessed us. Sometimes God allows the wicked to prosper but eventually they will collapse under the weight of their own judgment. We have to understand that everything we are and everything we have is a gift from God and to be grateful for every little thing.